New risks for old dilemmas in the Agadez region:
Is the EU migration policy in Niger a success?
June 14, 2022
The second event in the series focusing on Niger by the “WANA, Sahel & Beyond” Programme of Polis180 was hosted in collaboration with the “Migration”-Programme. It was our honour to welcome Johannes Claes from the Clingendael Institute as our speaker. He is a research fellow at Clingendael’s Conflict Research Unit, working on political economy and governance in the Sahel. Beforehand, he worked for a humanitarian NGO on migration and displacement issues in Niger for several years.
The event examined migration in the Niger’s northern region of Agadez and the influence of the EU on Nigerien migration policies.
Claes first differentiated between three different types of migration present in the Sahel: Firstly, intraregional migration within ECOWAS, which makes up the highest percentage. A second form – mainly in order to find work – is interregional migration between the Sahel and North Africa. Migration to Europe, which is only a fraction of all the mobility, finally forms the third type.
Migration and border management in northern Niger became a topic of interest and engagement for the EU in the context of the so-called “refugee crisis” in 2015/16. The Valletta Summit in November 2015 with European and African leaders adopted an action plan and created the EU-Trust Fund (EUTF) for Africa, whose largest beneficiary is Niger. Different mechanisms to tangle the issue of migration were implemented: A first column was formed by border reinforcement like building border posts, training of personnel, better documentation, fingerprint control. A second column, which has a big overlap with a security agenda, consists of improving judicial and police capacities. The implementation of Nigerien Law 36-2015, which criminalizes smuggling, belongs to this column. It was supported by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the EU as part of an application of the Palermo Protocol against the Smuggling of Migrants, which Niger signed. After its adoption in 2015, the first effects of its implementation were seen in late 2016. Finally, the EUTF also encapsules softer development projects and return programmes. While in 2015 it was created as a separate budget, the EUTF got integrated into the regular EU budget plan for 2021 – 2027. As Claes stated, we can therefore expect similar means in the next years as we have already seen since 2015, which makes the current time good for reflection.
Whether Law 36-2015 can be called a success, depends – according to Claes – on the definition of success. Officially, the numbers of migrants on the former routes through the Sahara went down. But this may also be due to other dynamics. Furthermore, new routes were used, which are not covered by statistics.
This directly brought us to the topic of negative consequences of Law 36-2015: Migrants were forced to use more dangerous routes, prices increased, as well as the number of sexual or in general physical abuse against migrants. Next to the negative consequences on migrants themselves, the law had also negative effects on the local community in the Agadez region, for whom migration generated different forms of income through offering transport, accommodation, or food. In a region with very limited employment, reconversion programmes failed to offer new reintegration perspectives for the local community because the programmes were often not adapted to the local context or money didn’t reach those who needed it most. Another yet speculative negative effect is that potential rebellions in the North could be fuelled due to a lack of devolution because all the money was channelled through the central government. Therefore, as shown, a lot of collateral damage occurred in connection to Law 36-2015.
Aspects to address these issues could for example be transforming the law from a regional coverage into one which covers the whole territory of Niger. Further, studies e.g. on the economic situation should be conducted prior to a regulation´s implementation in order to fulfil a conflict-sensitive approach which takes the do-no-harm approach seriously; funds should be channelled to local institutions; human rights diligence should be considered; and last but not least, the European partners should not ignore anti-Western sentiments and postures in the society.
We thank Johannes Claes a lot for his time and input!
Lisa Erlmann (Co-Head of Programme, WANA, Sahel & Beyond)